The fog is slowly rising and a sure sign that I’m emerging from mummy & baby land is that today I’m wearing high heels. I’m also drinking a hot coffee and because I’m at work and MM is at home today with Charlie the chance of me finishing this coffee while it is still hot is very high. Happy days.
Since becoming a mother I have second guessed pretty much every decision I’ve made. Charlie’s well being has been my sole focus over the past 6 months and my obsession to parent him perfectly has caused a number of meltdowns (mine, not Charlie’s). For the last 10 years working with MM in our own business the philosophy has always been about excellence and exceeding expectations. At home with Charlie I had to learn VERY QUICKLY not to have any expectations. He needs a 2 hour nap? Well according to Charlie he only needs a quick cat nap of 30 minutes thank you very much. My nana calls him spirited. I call him cheeky chops. Whoever coined the phrase cat nap never owned a cat.
During my pregnancy I had in my head that I wouldn’t be a “mothers group” kind of girl but as it happened my sanity had other ideas and the mother’s group I have become a part of has also become a lifeline. Recently we all met for coffee, and after Charlie had shown the other babies his newly found sitting up skills (he’s very advanced – yep, I’m a walking cliché), the conversation turned to returning to work. Some have already returned part time whilst the remaining are getting ready to do so in the next couple of months. All of us are going back to work in some capacity.
There are no walls at my mothers group, no one pretends to have this parenting caper sorted and everyone is open about their reasons for returning to work. For some it is purely financial and for others it is simply because they enjoy what they do. For me it’s about balance and perhaps a small part of me wants to spend a day not listening to the puppy dog that sings “heads, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.” Charlie is my world but that song is slowly killing me.
At this point I realise just how very fortunate I am in relation to my own personal situation and the challenges many parents face returning to work. It was easy to walk out the door this morning without having to worry about doing the child care drop off or having to rattle off a list of instructions to a newly employed nanny. I left Charlie at home with MM, and my only concern is the fate of the singing puppy dog after MM spends a day with that thing.
With a job market that is constantly seeking out the best possible employees, and employers always looking to retain their people, providing flexibility in the workplace is nothing new. Just last week the Courier Mail reported a story that referenced how Rio Tinto has provided a family room where parents can bring their children to work. Whilst this is a tremendous initiative on Rio Tinto’s behalf it is obviously not practical for a lot of organisations. A business has to run and productivity is paramount so whilst I applaud Rio Tinto I acknowledge that it is simply not viable and I imagine many of our clients would agree. That said, I think there is still much to be done to allow parents the opportunity to create that balance. I thought we’d come a long way and in many ways we have, but the conversations at my mothers group suggests there is still much to be done. Case in point, one mum has established herself in a banking and finance career, formal qualifications, many years experience with the one organisation (so lots of intellectual property), clearly an intelligent lady who loves her son but is also craving the mental stimulation and adult interaction that her career provides. Her request seemed simple enough, return to work 3 days per week and work from home one day a week. Unfortunately she was unable to negotiate these terms. Of course I only know her side of the story and I appreciate there could be more to it. Though as a Recruiter, I know if I interviewed her as a candidate I would certainly be encouraging employers to look at what she has to offer in terms of skills, experience and competencies rather than whether she can do a 50 hour week or not. Whilst MM is enjoying the opportunity to work from home today and spend some time with his son I then question how many employers offer the same luxury for their working dads? In allowing this to occur every now and then I wonder the impact it would have on the staff retention within an organisation. Not to mention a fantastic way to attract an employee especially one who has two potential offers, both great roles but one offering just that bit more flexibility than the other. Which would you choose if that were you?
In writing this I didn’t want it to come across being all about flexibility for working parents only. Flexibility and equality are not mutually exclusive. An organisation may consider offering flexibility for those who are undertaking studies in a relevant field. It relates to providing part time work opportunities for a long standing employee who simply wants to cut back their hours for their own personal reasons, or for someone who knows they can leave a couple of hours early next Friday afternoon without putting in a leave form and waiting two weeks for it to be approved. I know someone who doesn’t have children and isn’t allowed to take any holidays during school holidays because that’s when all of the mums take leave. She recently wanted to attend an interstate wedding that fell during the school holidays and her leave request was declined. Not only is that not flexible, it’s not equality and all it achieves is resentment. Flexibility has to be fair.
So as I’m slowly figuring out the work, home, family juggle thingy I am well aware of how lucky I am – a flexible workplace and hugely supportive husband. I have gained a whole new respect for working mums and dads and those who especially do it tougher than others. You should all take a bow.